England 1 Paraguay 0
England stuttered to victory in their Group B opener in Frankfurt thanks to a third-minute Paraguay own goal.
Carlos Gamarra put David Beckham‘s left-wing free-kick past his own keeper to set up a half dominated by England. It was a different story in the second half as Paraguay threatened more as a cautious England put themselves under unnecessary pressure. Frank Lampard came closest to extending the lead with two long-range efforts as the South Americans pressed for a draw.
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson will be happier with the points than the performance. But England will not complain, and rightly so with their history of making slow starts to major tournaments. Steven Gerrard, as expected, was declared fit after a back injury to give England a full-strength side apart from Wayne Rooney. And if they needed a lift in the searing heat, it came after only three minutes courtesy of Beckham’s free-kick. England’s captain swung in the set-piece and it glanced off the head of Gamarra and beyond the despairing dive of keeper Justo Villar. Villar’s afternoon got worse two minutes later when he was injured making a clearance and limped off with what looked like an ankle injury. His replacement, Aldo Bobadilla, did not fare much better, and was penalised for time-wasting, only for Lampard to fail to take advantage of the free-kick 15 yards out.
Nelson Valdes was a threat to England, and he shot wide after a slip by John Terry – with Gerrard shown a yellow card for a tackle as the Paraguayan shot. England were in confident mood and Bobadilla saved from Lampard as they dominated proceedings, Beckham also shooting narrowly off target. But Paraguay grew in confidence and goalkeeper Paul Robinson was glad to see another shot from Valdes fly narrowly wide on the stroke of half-time.
England were subdued after the break, and Eriksson decided to make a change after 55 minutes, sending on Stewart Downing for a subdued Michael Owen. Paraguay were gaining heart from the fact that Eriksson’s side had not killed them off, and Roberto Acuna gave England an anxious moment on the hour with another shot just off target. England’s response was a cross-shot from Beckham that flew across the face of goal, and an effort from the lively Joe Cole that was dragged wide. Paraguay had possession without mounting a serious threat, and Lampard could have doubled England’s advantage, only to be denied by two fine saves from Bobadilla.
England held on to deservedly pick up three points, but there will undoubtedly be tougher tests ahead.